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Inside the Matchup
Week 10

By: Bill Andereson | Brian Thorne | Nick Caron | Kyle Smith




 Predictions - YTD
Rk Staffer W L %
1 Smith 25 8 75.8
2 Caron 24 10 70.6
3 Thorne 19 16 54.3
4 Anderson 16 15 51.6

Redskins @ Vikings - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Redskins passing attack, and specifically quarterback Robert Griffin III, has been up and down this season, but things seem to be now trending upward, and with so much talent on offense, this team could be a big source of fantasy points in the season’s second half. RG3 has had some rough games this year and his TD:INT ratio (9:9) is certainly not helping his fantasy owners, but he is running more lately and his completion percentage (60.3) and yards per attempt (7.2) are both still respectable. Helping RG3 is the continued development of wide receiver Pierre Garcon (172 yards last week) and the emergence of rookie tight end Jordan Reed (21 catches the past three weeks combined). With these two dynamic players, the Skins are building a nice set of young weapons for Griffin to grow with and fantasy owners to invest in. While the Skins' passing game is still in the development phase, with RG3 trying to get back to last year’s form and Reed trying to avoid the rookie wall, they still air it out enough to be huge fantasy assets if the matchup is right.

This week the matchup is more than right, with the reeling Minnesota Vikings hosting the Skins on a short week. The Vikings come into this game giving up the fourth most passing yards per game, the third highest completion percentage allowed, and the second most passing touchdowns allowed. In addition, their sack rate has dramatically decreased from last year and they have just 17 sacks thus far (fifth least in the NFL). The Vikings are currently giving up the third most fantasy points to opposing QBs, the eighth most to wide WRs, and the third most to TEs. With even less time than usual to prepare this week, this is setting up as a dream matchup for the Skins' offensive weapons in what could be a shootout. While RG3 has not been that surefire QB1 that he was last season, this kind of game represents, at least for one week, a probable return to that status. With some dynamic playmakers and facing a defense that can’t pressure opposing quarterbacks or defend in the secondary, I like Griffin as an easy top 10 QB this week. Garcon finally broke out big last week after five straight weeks of between 45 and 75 yards, and it looks like the chemistry between him and RG3 is getting better each week. As a target monster (third in the NFL), Garcon should start turning some of these catches into touchdowns and could be in store for a big second half. Garcon is a solid WR1 this week and a top 12 option at the position. Jordan Reed has been a bit up and down in is rookie campaign but is easily the second most talented receiver on this team and should be a nice low-end TE1 this week against a vulnerable Vikings defense. No other Redskins receiver is worth starting at this point, even in the deepest leagues.

Running Game Thoughts: Despite fullback Darrel Young vulturing three touchdowns and running back Roy Helu’s involvement in the passing game, Alfred Morris remains a fantasy stud in all but the toughest matchups. Morris gashed the Chargers last week for 121 yards and a touchdown while averaging a very respectable 4.8 yards per carry. Morris has had three straight games now with over 90 yards on the ground and only one game all year where he finished with less than 70. Despite not being involved in the passing game, Morris continues to get a heavy workload on the ground and, as a focal point of an improving Redskins offense, should continue to see 20 or more touches a game. The only circumstance where Morris may struggle is if the team gets down big early, which would probably mean an increase in usage of Roy Helu. Helu is the primary back in the team’s “turbo” package, where the team looks to pass more than usual in no-huddle situations.

This week Morris owners should not have to worry about that, as the Vikings offense often struggles to score and is currently averaging more than two points per game less than the Skins. Even better, the Vikings run defense is well below average and has given up several big games to opposing running backs this year, including to a similarly built back in Eddie Lacy (94 yds, 1 TD). With RG3 improving week to week and a couple of legitimate treats downfield, the Vikings defense will not be able to load up the box on Morris, meaning a bunch of long runs are possible. With Morris breaking tackles at an elite rate, he may find himself in the secondary more often than not, and with a good solid combo of size and burst, he could be running over defensive backs all the way to the end zone. Start Morris this week with confidence as a RB1 and an easy top 10 option at the position. Roy Helu remains a high-end handcuff but is not getting enough touches to be start-worthy in any but the very deepest PPR leagues.

Robert Griffin III: 290 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 30 rush yds
Alfred Morris: 115 rush yds, 2 TDs
Pierre Garcon: 105 rec yds, 1 TD
Jordan Reed: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Roy Helu: 15 rush yds, 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: It has been a rollercoaster ride with the men under center for the Vikings this season, with three different starters in eight games. But it looks like, at least for now, Christian Ponder will give it another go this week. For a team that is built around running the ball with Adrian Peterson, the Vikings still throw the ball nearly 60 percent of the time. Of course, a lot of this is because they are often trailing in games. For fantasy owners this just means more potential for garbage-time yards. As bad as Ponder has looked at times, he does have moments where you think “OK, maybe this guy could be something.” Of course those moments are few and far between. But with underrated athleticism, Ponder at least has the potential to give his receivers some opportunities. The biggest news this week concerning the Vikings passing game is the loss of tight end Kyle Rudolph, who broke his foot last week and will be out for several games. Rudolph was not having a great season but was one of Ponder’s favorite targets, and with backup tight end John Carlson being less talented, it could mean more opportunities for wideout Greg Jennings—or for Cordarrelle Patterson, who is still being vastly underutilized on offense.

While this offense has some major limitations in the passing game, the Redskins may provide them with a short-term cure this week. Washington, to this point, is letting up the fifth most passing yards per game and the fourth highest yards per pass attempt in the NFL. In addition, they have been the second easiest defense to score against for opposing fantasy QBs and the third easiest for opposing WRs. With a shorter week for defenses to prepare and some major holes in the Redskins secondary, Ponder and company are very likely to get into a shootout and at the very least rack up some respectable yards through the air. While it is tough to recommend Ponder as a fantasy starter, this would be the week if there ever was one. While he may not put up big touchdown numbers, Ponder should easily throw for over 225 in this one and has been getting consistent rushing yards to pad his stats as well. He is a solid QB2 this week, especially with a handful of decent QBs on bye or injured. As for his receivers, until Patterson gets more involved or someone else steps up, Greg Jennings is really the only guy here who should concern you. Jennings has been up and down this season but is easily leading the team in targets and therefore should get the best opportunity for some decent stats this week. In a good matchup like this, Jennings should be a high-end WR3. No other Vikings receiver is worth a start at this point unless you are extremely desperate at TE (Carlson) or want to gamble big on a lottery ticket (Simpson).

Running Game Thoughts: In my two seasons of doing Inside the Matchup for the NFC North, perhaps no section is easier and more consistent to write about than that of the Vikings running game. Adrian Peterson is one of just a handful of players today that you can basically count on like clockwork. Sure, he has a bad game from time to time, but overall he is about as consistent as they come, which is saying a lot considering the lack of quality talent around him. For Peterson, a bad matchup is still a must-start and a good matchup means he might just carry your fantasy team to victory single-handedly.

This week against the Redskins is perhaps Peterson’s best matchup so far, and may be his best all season. The Redskins must travel to Minnesota on a short week and try to contain one of the league's most punishing players who is coming off a 140-yard rushing day and itching for a team victory after falling to 1-7 last week. The Redskins have been very generous to opposing running backs this year, allowing 10 rushing touchdowns (fourth most in the NFL) and over 115 yards on the ground per game (10th most). Of course this translates into being one of the top five friendliest fantasy defenses to face for opposing RBs, and for a guy as talented as Peterson, an absolute dream matchup at home. I could ramble on and on about different stats here but let’s not beat around the bush: you are going to start Peterson this week and more than likely he is going to dominate the Skins. Peterson is this week’s top fantasy RB start.

Christian Ponder: 255 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 30 rush yds
Adrian Peterson: 130 rush yds, 2 TDs, 15 rec yds
Greg Jennings: 75 rec yds
Jerome Simpson: 45 rec yds
John Carlson: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Redskins 27, Vikings 24 ^ Top

Rams at Colts - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: With Sam Bradford sidelined, the Rams’ passing game has fallen in the hands of Kellen Clemens. While those hands are capable of producing decent numbers on occasion, they are not close to being fantasy-worthy. As a byproduct, the team’s receiving corps also fails to live up to the standards of fantasy success, and should largely be ignored even against an Indianapolis team that has shown vulnerability against the pass in their last couple of games.

The Colts have been a middle-of-the-road team in terms of pass defense overall, but have slid recently. They rank 17th in the league in pass defense, 10th in touchdown passes yielded, 16th in interceptions, and 17th in sacks. Indy is 17th in FPts/G allowed to QBs, but have been shredded for a combined 736 yards and six touchdowns in their last two contests. They are giving up the ninth-most FPts/G to WRs and are tied for fifth-most touchdowns surrendered to players at that position, yet have held their own against TEs, having allowed the seventh-fewest FPts/G to the position.

Running Game Thoughts: The St. Louis offense now resides basically in the hands of one player, running back Zac Stacy. He’s been the starter for five games now and produced at a high level, with at least 75 rushing yards in four of those games. Stacy has run for 125+ yards in each of his last two contests, and though still a bit raw as a receiver, did have six catches last week. He should be in the starting lineups of fantasy owners this week against the Colts.

Indianapolis is 27th in the NFL in rush defense and 25th in YCP allowed, but 10th in rushing scores surrendered. Their poor numbers against the run don’t translate to the running back position, however, as they are giving up the fifth-fewest FPts/G in the league to RBs in large part because many of the rushing yards they’ve allowed have been to quarterbacks and only the Steelers are surrendering fewer receiving yards to running backs than the Colts.

Kellen Clemens: 220 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Chris Givens: 55 rec yds
Jared Cook: 45 rec yds
Tavon Austin: 35 rec yds, 1 TD
Austin Pettis: 30 rec yds
Lance Kendricks: 15 rec yds
Zac Stacy: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Daryl Richardson: 20 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Andrew Luck was underwhelming at the beginning of the year for fantasy owners, but he’s come on lately, and over his last five games has thrown 10 touchdowns with only a pair of interceptions. Losing Reggie Wayne was a blow, but T.Y. Hilton now becomes a prominent fantasy wideout and proved as much with 121 yards and three touchdowns last week against Houston. Hilton’s big game moved him into the top-20 at wideout in FPts/G, and into a tie for 10th in touchdown catches. Look for him to continue to produce this week against St. Louis.

The Rams are tied for third-most sacks in the league, and are ninth in pass defense, but teams don’t need to throw much because of how well they run against St. Louis. And even though the team has given up the 11th-fewest FPts/G to QBs, they are tied for third-most touchdowns allowed to WRs and have surrendered the 14th-most FPts/G to players at that position. With all the success wideouts have had against the Rams, TEs haven’t needed to get in the mix and they’ve held players at that position to the third-fewest FPts/G in the league.

Running Game Thoughts: It looks more and more like the Colts overpaid for Trent Richardson, who managed only 20 yards on eight carries last week and is questionable this week with an ankle injury. Richardson’s rushing yards have decreased in each of his last four games and the explosiveness he was thought to possess doesn’t seem to exist. If he was ever to have a big game, this week would be the time, and I’d put Richardson into our fantasy lineups based on matchup alone.

With one exception, St. Louis has been horrific against the run this season. They managed to slow down Seattle, but otherwise have been buried by opposing backs, ranking 28th in run defense, 21st in yards per carry allowed and 30th in rushing scores ceded. Only two teams are giving up more FPts/G to RBs than the Rams, no team has allowed more rushing yards to opposing backs, and four different backs have run for at least 140 yards against them.

Andrew Luck: 285 pass yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 20 rush yds
T.Y. Hilton: 95 rec yds, 1 TD
Coby Fleener: 50 rec yds
Darrius Heyward-Bey: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Griff Whalen: 30 rec yds
LaVon Brazill: 25 rec yds
Trent Richardson: 65 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Donald Brown: 35 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Colts 27, Rams 20

Seahawks at Falcons - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Seahawks’ offensive line continues to struggle badly, which is putting a dent into the team’s offense. Russell Wilson continues to face immense pressure and though he’s still putting up solid numbers, is only 12th among quarterbacks in FPts/G. It will help when Percy Harvin returns, but that is unlikely to happen this week and the team also lost Sidney Rice, further eroding their receiving options. Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin are capable wideouts, but far from fantasy stars as neither rank in the top-40 at their position in FPts/G. I’d steer clear of all Seattle wideouts and tight ends, even against the Falcons.

Atlanta is 19th in the NFL in pass defense, which isn’t terrible, but they are clearly worse than that ranking would indicate. Only two other teams have given up more touchdown passes than the Falcons, who also rank 22nd in interceptions and 24th in sacks, yards per attempt allowed and completion percentage allowed. Though the Falcons held an opposing quarterback without multiple touchdown passes for the first time last week (Cam Newton), they are still yielding the 9th-most FPts/G to QBs, the 10th-most FPts/G to WRs, and the 12th-most FPts/G to tight ends.

Running Game Thoughts: Marshawn Lynch bounced back from his unsightly game two weeks ago versus the Rams to contribute 125 rushing yards last week against Tampa. Only LeSean McCoy has more rushing yards than Lynch this season, who is seventh in FPts/G at his position. Lynch hasn’t scored in his last two games, but that only means he’s due, and I think Atlanta will yield multiple scores on the ground.

The Falcons have been up-and-down against the run this year, ranking 20th in rush defense, 10th in rushing scores yielded, and 26th in YPC allowed. Though they are 17th in FPts/G allowed to RBs, Atlanta has allowed the seventh-most rushing yards in the league to running backs despite no player at the position having more than 15 carries in a game against them.

Russell Wilson: 215 pass yds, 1 TD, 45 rush yds
Golden Tate: 70 rec yds
Doug Baldwin: 55 rec yds
Jermaine Kearse: 40 rec yds
Zach Miller: 25 rec yds, 1 TD
Marshawn Lynch: 105 rush yds, 2 TD, 15 rec yds
Robert Turbin: 30 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: It has become crystal clear the last couple of weeks how much Matt Ryan needs his top receivers to be healthy for him to succeed. Julio Jones is out and Roddy White has not been healthy all season, and it’s Ryan – and his fantasy owners – who have paid the price. Ryan has thrown two touchdowns and seven interceptions in his last two games and though White may suit up this week, I wouldn’t put him, Ryan or even Tony Gonzalez in my fantasy lineup against the Seahawks.

With Seattle’s vaunted secondary, it should come as no surprise that opponents have had limited success throwing the ball against the Seahawks. They have the number-two pass defense in the league, are fourth in touchdowns ceded, third in sacks, second in yards per attempt allowed, and first in interceptions. No team is allowing fewer FPts/G to QBs than Seattle, who has given up just three passing scores with six interceptions in their last four games. Just one team has given up fewer FPts/G to WRs than the Seahawks, and only tight ends are having a modicum of success against them, but the team still ranks in the top half of the league in FPts/G allowed to TEs.

Running Game Thoughts: Steven Jackson fizzled in his Week 8 return to the lineup, but gained some traction last week with 57 yards on 13 carries and 19 yards on three receptions. He’s the type of back who gets better with more carries and considering the Falcons’ struggles throwing the ball recently, I’d be surprised if Jackson doesn’t get his biggest workload of the season this week against Seattle.

The Seahawks have been fairly average against the rush this season, ranking 19th in run defense and 18th in YPC allowed, but sixth in rushing scores surrendered. They have given up the ninth-fewest FPts/G in the league to RBs, but have seen a crack develop in their last two contests, as a pair of otherwise unaccomplished runners – Zac Stacy of the Rams and Mike James of the Buccaneers – each ran for more than 130 yards when facing Seattle.

Matt Ryan: 230 pass yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Harry Douglas: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Tony Gonzalez: 45 rec yds
Drew Davis: 30 rec yds
Darius Johnson: 25 rec yds, 1 TD
Roddy White: 15 rec yds
Steven Jackson: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Jacquizz Rodgers: 25 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Seahawks 24, Falcons 21

Jaguars at Titans - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Jacksonville nightmare continued with the recent suspension of Justin Blackmon, leaving the Jags with approximately zero offense. I suppose this could mean good things for fantasy owners who have Cecil Shorts on their roster, but with Chad Henne at quarterback – the same Chad Henne who is 42nd at quarterback in FPts/G – no Jaguars receiver should be a regular in any fantasy lineup, especially not against the Titans.

Tennessee has been surprisingly excellent defending the pass this season, ranking seventh in the league in pass defense. No team has given up fewer touchdown passes than they have despite the fact they are not among the league leaders in sacks or interceptions. The Titans have yielded just a single touchdown pass in their last four games and are allowing the fourth-fewest FPts/G to QBs. They are also giving up the fewest FPts/G to WRs while allowing the second-fewest receiving yards and touchdown catches to players at that position. The only weakness in their pass coverage has come against TEs, as Tennessee has allowed the 10th-most receiving yards to players at that position, as well as the eighth-most touchdowns and eighth-most FPts/G.

Running Game Thoughts: Maurice Jones-Drew has shown some signs of life after struggling horribly to start the season, but he’s still not living up to his fantasy owners’ expectations. MJD is 35th in FPts/G at his position, but he has run for at least 70 yards in three of his last four outings, and traditionally has destroyed the Titans. I’m not sure how much stock we can put into that, but I do like Jones-Drew as a flex play this week based on his recent play and the fact that Tennessee has been so pliable against the run.

While the Titans have excelled in pass defense this season, they have left much to be desired against the rush. The team ranks 26th in rush defense, 22nd in YPC allowed, and 27th in touchdown runs given up. Tennessee has allowed the sixth-most receiving yards and fourth-most touchdowns in the league to opposing backs, and hence is surrendering the eighth-most FPts/G to RBs.

Chad Henne: 185 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT
Cecil Shorts: 55 rec yds
Mike Brown: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Stephen Burton: 30 rec yds
Ace Sanders: 15 rec yds
Marcedes Lewis: 10 rec yds
Maurice Jones-Drew: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Jake Locker returned a bit quicker than expected from his knee injury and has had mixed results. He was very good against the 49ers, but threw for only 185 yards with no touchdowns and a pair of interceptions last week against St. Louis. Locker has a pair of solid wideouts to throw to in Kendall Wright and Nate Washington, but neither has more than two touchdown receptions and that lack of scoring has put both outside the top-50 at their position in FPts/G. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t hesitate to put either in my fantasy lineup as a WR3 against Jacksonville.

The Jaguars are 12th in pass defense so far this season, which means they’re pretty good at pass coverage, right? Wrong. The team may not give up a ton of yards, but they’re 25th in touchdown throws surrendered and completion percentage allowed, 26th in yards per attempt allowed, second-to-last in sacks and last in interceptions. Only six teams are giving up more FPts/G to QBs than Jacksonville, and only four are ceding more FPts/G to TEs. They’re 16th in FPts/G given up to WRs, but don’t let that fool you – they’ve allowed the fifth-most touchdown receptions in the NFL to wideouts.

Running Game Thoughts: Chris Johnson’s fantasy owners have struggled with his results most of the season, but he rebounded last week with 150 rushing yards and two scores against the terrible run defense of the Rams. Johnson’s owners should be pleased that he once again faces a hideous rush defense and like most starting running backs when facing the Jaguars, Johnson should be a fantasy starter without a second thought.

Awful, putrid, abhorrent. Any and all of these adjectives describe the Jacksonville rush defense this season, which is ranked last in the league. Only three teams are giving up more YPC, no team has allowed more rushing scores, and no team is yielding more FPts/G to RBs than the Jaguars.

Jake Locker: 280 pass yds, 2 TD, 30 rush yds
Kendall Wright: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Nate Washington: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Damian Williams: 40 rec yds
Delanie Walker: 30 rec yds
Justin Hunter: 15 rec yds
Kenny Britt: 10 rec yds
Chris Johnson: 115 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Shonn Greene: 35 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Titans 31, Jaguars 17

Cowboys at Saints - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: Tony Romo may not get much love from fans or media types, but fantasy owners know better. The oft-criticized QB is fifth in the NFL in passing yards, third in touchdowns, and seventh in FPts/G. He plays with every-week fantasy starters at wideout and tight end – Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, respectively – and their status should not change based on matchup. True, the Saints have done well against the pass this season, but Bryant is fifth in FPts/G at wideout and despite Witten’s occasional unproductive outings, he is too important to the Cowboys’ offense to sit.

New Orleans continues to play solid pass defense after a horrid 2012 and they’re fifth in the league against the pass while yielding the third-fewest touchdown throws. They also rank in the top-10 in sacks and completion percentage allowed and just a trio of teams are surrendering fewer FPts/G to QBs than the Saints. They have given up the 11th-fewest FPts/G to WRs and no wideout has gained at least 75 yards against them in their last three games. New Orleans is also allowing the fourth-fewest FPts/G to TEs and hasn’t allowed a touchdown to a tight end since Week 4.

Running Game Thoughts: DeMarco Murray ran for 7.8 YPC last week against Minnesota, thrilling his fantasy owners after his return from injury. Less thrilling to his fantasy owners is that Murray ran the ball only four times and despite catching six passes gained only 19 receiving yards. He will undoubtedly get a larger workload this week against the Saints, who have struggled to stop the run this year.

The Saints’ marked improvement on defense may show up in their pass defense, but they still have a ways to go to fix their run defense. They are 25th in the league against the rush, 31st in YPC allowed, and 18th in rushing scores yielded. New Orleans is giving up the 14th-most FPts/G to RBs, and all three of the backs that have at least 18 carries in a game against them have gained 95 or more yards, including Chris Ivory of the Jets, who picked up 139 yards with one score against them last week.

Tony Romo: 335 pass yds, 3 TD, 2 INT
Dez Bryant: 105 rec yds, 2 TD
Jason Witten: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Miles Austin: 45 rec yds
Terrance Williams: 40 rec yds
Cole Beasley: 25 rec yds
DeMarco Murray: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Joseph Randle: 15 rush yds, 10 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Drew Brees trails only Peyton Manning in passing yards, touchdowns, and FPts/G and he gets it done regardless of who is available to him. Last week he threw for 382 yards without the services of Marques Colston and Darren Sproles, but both should be available this week. Lance Moore has also become more productive and the team still has all-world tight end Jimmy Graham, whose 10 touchdown catches lead all players and he should only add more this week against a poor Dallas secondary.

It is safe to say the Cowboys have underachieved on pass defense this season, what with the team ranking 31st against the pass and being one of only two squads in the league to surrender at least 300 yards through the air. Though they’re third in interceptions and 13th in sacks, just six teams have allowed more touchdown throws than Dallas, four quarterbacks have thrown for 400+ yards against them, and no team is giving up more FPts/G to QBs than they are. The Cowboys are yielding the 13th-most FPts/G to WRs, but have allowed the third-most receiving yards to wideouts, including the absurd 329 they gave up to Calvin Johnson two weeks ago. It’s not just receivers who are shredding the ‘Boys – they’ve also allowed more FPts/G to TEs than all but four other teams and the third-most receiving yards to players at that position.

Running Game Thoughts: Pierre Thomas is the team’s leading rusher but he has yet to score on the ground, while Darren Sproles is mostly a receiver and Mark Ingram is lousy. That pretty much sums up the rushing attack of the Saints, with only Sproles being someone fantasy owners should consider using this week against the Cowboys.

Dallas is 16th in the NFL in rush defense, but have struggled to keep opposing teams from scoring on the ground, and rank 22nd in rushing touchdowns yielded and 27th in YPC allowed. They are allowing the ninth-most FPts/G in the league to RBs and a lot of that has to do with the fact that they cannot cover backs as receivers. No team has surrendered more receiving yards to running backs than the Cowboys and only one team has allowed more scoring catches to backs.

Drew Brees: 380 pass yds, 5 TD, 1 INT
Jimmy Graham: 110 rec yds, 2 TD
Lance Moore: 65 rec yds, 1 TD
Marques Colston: 50 rec yds
Kenny Stills: 45 rec yds, 1 TD
Robert Meachem: 25 rec yds
Pierre Thomas: 40 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Darren Sproles: 25 rush yds, 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Mark Ingram: 15 rush yds

Prediction: Saints 35, Cowboys 28

Dolphins at Buccaneers - (Smith)

Passing Game Thoughts: I have to believe the mess in Miami will carry over to some degree and with the attrition on the offensive line, along with the injury to Brandon Gibson, quarterback Ryan Tannehill is not somebody fantasy owners should be relying on this week. He’s been mediocre this season anyway and Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline have struggled, putting up decent yard totals but with only three touchdowns between them. Tampa does not have a good pass defense, but I’d stay away from all Dolphins involved in the passing game this week.

Even with Darrelle Revis, the Buccaneers have been less than mediocre against the pass this year. They rank 15th in pass defense, 23rd in touchdown passes ceded, 25th in sacks, and 27th in completion percentage allowed. Tampa is giving up the seventh-most FPts/G to QBs and has surrendered multiple touchdown throws in five of their last six games, including their last four. Due to Revis, they’re 17th in FPts/G allowed to WRs, but have still given up the 10th-most scoring catches to wideouts. The Bucs have been decent against TEs, ranking 15th in FPts/G allowed to that position while surrendering the 13th-most receiving yards.

Running Game Thoughts: Lamar Miller got more than 15 carries in each of his last two games, the first time this season that has happened and showed what he could do with his best performances of the season, rushing for a combined total of 194 yards while adding 47 receiving yards. With the Miami offensive line playing without two starters, it may be more difficult for him to rack up yards, but I think Miller could cross the 20-carry mark this week, making him a viable fantasy option against the Bucs.

Tampa has been solid against the run this season, ranking 13th in rush defense, 14th in YPC allowed, and sixth in rushing scores yielded. They have given up just one rushing score to a running back all year, and are allowing the 13th-fewest FPts/G in the league to RBs. The reason the Bucs haven’t fared better in fantasy numbers is because they have allowed the ninth-most receiving yards in the NFL to backs, and have given up three times the amount of receiving touchdowns to backs as rushing touchdowns.

Ryan Tannehill: 205 pass yds, 1 TD, 2 INT, 35 rush yds
Brian Hartline: 60 rec yds
Mike Wallace: 55 rec yds
Charles Clay: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Rishard Matthews: 15 rec yds
Lamar Miller: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Daniel Thomas: 20 rush yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The Buccaneers are a mess, yet they nearly pulled off a huge upset of the Seahawks last week with Mike Glennon throwing a pair of touchdowns without an interception, though for only 168 yards. He hasn’t played to the level of a fantasy starter but does have one to throw to in wideout Vincent Jackson, who is 17th in FPts/G at wideout. I also like tight end Tim Wright this week, who is 12th in FPts/G at his position, has scored in consecutive outings and has a fantastic matchup.

The turmoil in Miami hasn’t necessarily crossed over to their pass defense, where they rank 22nd, but are fourth in touchdown throws surrendered, ninth in interceptions and 10th in sacks. The Fins have allowed the ninth-fewest FPts/G to QBs and have yielded just a single touchdown throw over their last four games. They’ve also shut down WRs, having given up the fourth-fewest FPts/G to players at that position and the one touchdown they’ve allowed to a wideout this year is the fewest in the NFL. Miami’s struggles in pass coverage have come against tight ends, as just one team is giving up more FPts/G to players at that position.

Running Game Thoughts: Doug Martin is unlikely to play this week so the running game will continue to belong to Mike James. He had 158 rushing yards last week against Seattle and though he did not score, he did throw a touchdown pass. James hasn’t been great as Martin’s replacement, but I do think he’s a solid flex play this week against Miami.

The Dolphins rush defense has been decidedly below average this season, and even though they rank 13th in YPC allowed, they’re also 21st against the run and 24th in rushing scores ceded. In fact, Miami is allowing more FPts/G to RBs than any team in the league except Jacksonville. The Dolphins have not only struggled against backs as runners, but as receivers as well, with only three teams having given up more receiving yards out of the backfield.

Mike Glennon: 215 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Vincent Jackson: 90 rec yds
Tim Wright: 55 rec yds, 1 TD
Tiquan Underwood: 25 rec yds
Mike James: 90 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Brian Leonard: 30 rush yds, 15 rec yds

Prediction: Buccaneers 20, Dolphins 17

Raiders at Giants - (Thorne)

Passing Game Thoughts: Even though he was taken out of the Week 9 loss against Philadelphia, quarterback Terrelle Pryor (knee) insists that the move was simply a precaution. His fourth-quarter departure was preceded by a two-interception, two-sack, zero-touchdown performance, unfortunately outweighing the 382 total yards (288 passing, 94 rushing) he had gained up to that point. In the seven games in which he’s appeared, Pryor has averaged 203.9 yards passing and a 61.1 percent completion rate, which would rank Oakland as the tenth worst team in the league if he’d been available for all eight games this season. The primary hindrance to the passing attack has been the offensive line; after preseason injuries put pressure on an already underwhelming group, it became evident that quarterback mobility would be at a premium. Because the quarterback is largely unable to stay in the pocket, that limits what the offense is able to do through the air and often makes Pryor’s ability to scramble and improvise the most impactful aspect of his contributions on the field. Even with his ability to get away from pressure, the Raiders have given up 32 sacks this season, tied for second worst in the NFL, and they are one of only seven teams to have thrown more interceptions than touchdowns.

The Week 10 matchup against the Giants may not lend any assistance to the struggling Oakland offense. What started the season as one of the weakest defense in the NFL, New York has slowly climbed up the ranks and now sits comfortably in the middle of the pack or better in most statistical categories. On top of that, they’ll be coming off a bye week and should be as close to full strength as they’ve been all season. They average 242 yards against per game (top half) and give up only 6.3 yards per attempt (third best). In the two games before the bye week, they gave up only seven points in each contest while allowing no passing touchdowns and forcing three interceptions. Five of their league-low ten sacks have come in those two games. Their opponents (Minnesota and Philadelphia) resemble the Raiders in that they are strong running teams with mediocre or worse passing attacks due to inconsistent offensive lines. Given New York's two-game winning streak and their apparent defensive revival, Oakland may find it difficult to move the ball effectively through the air. And if the O-line doesn’t show any improvement, the Giants are likely to continue to improve on their season sack totals as they have done in the past two games.

Running Game Thoughts: In stark contrast to the passing attack, the Raiders ground game is one of the best in the league; their 147.8 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry both rank in the top four. Individual performance numbers tell a bit of a different story though. The leading rusher on the team is Pryor, followed by the once-again injured Darren McFadden (hamstring, left in the first quarter), and then by Rashad Jennings, a bright spot in Week 9 who finished that contest with 102 yards rushing and a touchdown in addition to 74 yards receiving. The early prognosis on McFadden isn’t positive because hamstring injuries tend to take a little while to recover from, so Jennings will be the likely starter if McFadden is forced to miss the game. The same offensive line that makes passing difficult is what gives Pryor such an advantage as a runner; since many of his rushing attempts are improvised, it becomes more difficult for defenses to plan for him and he is athletic enough to get away from most anyone who may be designated as a spy against him.

Even though the Raiders are better running than they are throwing, they’ll be up against a defense that is better at stopping the run than the pass, matching up strength on strength nearly across the board on both sides of the ball. In the stalemate situation which may unfold Sunday, the advantage will almost certainly go to Oakland because of their ability to improvise on the ground and their familiarity with inconsistencies along the offensive line. In their two-game resurgence, the Giants have held Adrian Peterson to 28 yards and no touchdowns on 13 carries and similarly limited LeSean McCoy to 48 yards and no touchdowns on 15 carries. In both contests the defense has been up to the task of slowing down some of the best rushers in the NFL, and the offense has scored enough points to force their opponents to get away from trying to run the ball. Unless unforeseen changes occur in Week 10, the Raiders can anticipate a similar fate, though Pryor’s improvisational skills may end up being their saving grace in terms of offensive production.

Terrelle Pryor: 180 pass yds / 70 rush yds
Rashad Jennings: 60 rush yds, 1 TD / 40 rec yds
Denarius Moore: 50 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: New York has discovered their secret to success, the one statistic whose presence is common to all six of their losses and whose absence has correlated in their two victories: interceptions thrown by Eli Manning. During the Giants' six-game losing streak Manning threw 15 interceptions, at least one per game; in the two wins since then he’s thrown none. Beyond that one statistic, the only other notable change is Manning’s yards per attempt, where two of his four lowest numbers for the season have been in the most recent contests and the two others were blowout losses. It appears a bit of change in strategy has taken place, putting more focus on the shorter passing game and thus taking a bit of pressure off the offensive line. That has resulted in only three sacks over the past two games, compared to 16 in the six others. Shorter, quicker passes, fewer sacks, and no interceptions should be the passing strategy for New York going forward if their goal is to win games. Unfortunately for fantasy players this doesn’t lend itself to big individual performances, but getting more touches to the playmakers over time will give them a chance to do what they do best. Wide receiver Victor Cruz is still the top Giant to own, as he is the yardage (677) and receptions (47) leader while being tied for the lead in touchdowns with four. Also with a quartet of scores is Ruben Randle, who is third in the other categories behind Hakeem Nicks. Tight end Brandon Meyers has as many receptions as Randle but not as many yards or touchdowns. Beyond those four, the other contributions to the passing game are minimal.

Hosting the Raiders at MetLife Stadium should serve as a nice warm-up game as the Giants come out of their bye week, but if they come out slow or have much rust to knock off, they may put themselves behind early on Sunday. What Oakland does best is get to the quarterback, ranking better than average with 23 sacks. Most other statistical categories rank them in the bottom ten, and with respect to completion percentage against, they are the worst in the NFL. The Giants new offensive strategy of quick passes and shorter routes seems perfectly designed to combat the strength of the Oakland defense, but if the offensive line isn’t able to hold off the pass rush and the sacks, or quarterback pressures start piling up, it will likely lead to turnovers and keep the game much closer than it needs to be. Last week Philadelphia targeted the rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden and saw good success when throwing against him. Hayden will likely be the defender responsible for covering Cruz, so if that trend carries over from last week, there could be an abundance of end zone salsa dancing this weekend as the star receiver helps New York to continue their newfound winning ways.

Running Game Thoughts: In the good news/bad news relationship that exists between fantasy football and on the field action, the Giants ground game is at the very center of that dichotomy. As a team they have an abundance of running backs, which makes the clear favorite hard to determine. Due to prior injuries in any given week, there has generally been one primary back, but following the bye week there will now be a handful of talented runners returning to full availability. The ultimate downside, even once a top back has been established, is that the offensive line has been close to atrocious in creating running lanes all season long because of an unfortunate collection of injuries. For 2013, New York ranks in the bottom three of yards gained per game and yards per attempt, second worst in fumbles lost, and in the bottom ten of touchdowns scored. There are seven teams that more than double their weekly rushing output. The most telling statistic may be their season's longest run, which is a league-worst 18 yards. Not only are the Giants relatively unsuccessful when it comes to grinding out yards on the ground, but they’re all-but incapable of breaking a big play. For this weekend, running back Peyton Hillis is expected to be ready to go, David Wilson (neck) has not been cleared to play yet, and Andre Brown will be eligible to return to action since going on Short Term Injured Reserve earlier this season; the projection is he’ll be slowly integrated back into the offense, likely causing a logjam of running back talent in the next few weeks.

For all of the potential opportunities that the passing game may feature this weekend, there are likely going to be far fewer on the ground. Oakland has a top six rush defense, and that combined with the ineffectiveness of the Giants ground game sets the stage for a daunting matchup along the line of scrimmage if New York is going to try to run the ball with any sort of regularity. The areas where the Raiders seem to excel are where the Giants struggle, and vice versa, so the primary coaching decision will come in how long either team is going to try to do what they already don’t do well and how quickly they’re going to try to load up against the weaknesses of their opponent. As this chess match plays out in real life, the most likely scenario involves New York running just enough to prevent the Raiders from committing all their defenders to coverage, taking advantage of situations with six (or fewer) men in the box, and likely being unsuccessful in rushing attempts when short-yardage situations present themselves. The major problem is the offensive line, and not even a bye week can facilitate the kind of consistency and execution that is needed to have an effective run game.

Eli Manning: 250 pass yds, 2 TDs
Peyton Hillis: 50 rush yds
Andre Brown: 25 rush yds
Victor Cruz: 110 rec yds, 1 TD
Hakeem Nicks: 60 rec yds, 1 TD
Rueben Randle: 60 rec yds

Prediction: Giants 27, Raiders 16

Eagles @ Packers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: “WOW!” is most people’s reaction after seeing Nick Foles shred the Raiders defense last week for 406 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. The historic day was great for the small percentage of fantasy managers who started Foles, but perhaps more importantly it clears up the Eagles' quarterback situation and gives their offense some real hope going forward. This week they face a tougher foe in the Packers, who rank just slightly worse than average in most defensive pass categories but may be getting a big boost with the probable return of linebacker Clay Matthews, perhaps their best overall defensive player. Matthews has been out several weeks and, while he may be limited this week playing with a “club” wrap on his hand, he certainly will be a welcome sign for a Packers defense that got shredded by a backup quarterback last week (Josh McCown). While expecting or hoping for anything close to last week’s performance would be plain ridiculous, the Eagles certainly have the playmakers and scheme to put up serious yardage against an average Packers secondary.

After a hot start, DeSean Jackson cooled off for several weeks before exploding last week, and as the Eagles' No. 1 wide receiver he should get enough targets and catches to be considered a mid-range WR1 this week, especially considering his 16.5 yards per catch, which ranks him first among players that have caught 50 or more balls. After Jackson, the talent level drops pretty significantly, but those looking for a WR3 or bye-week fill-in could certainly do worse than Riley Cooper, who had three touchdowns last week and 13 catches combined over the past three weeks. It is becoming more clear each week that the future in tight end lies in Zach Ertz, who had his best game as a pro last week, catching five balls for 42 yards and a touchdown. The only problem with starting Ertz is that—much like the Bengals, who have Gresham and Eifert—the Eagles still use Brent Celek in a lot of formations, even if he does not catch that many balls. Until Ertz gets enough snaps to keep him on the field most of the time, he is a lowly TE2 option again. As for Foles, there will surely be a rush to start him in many leagues after last week’s blow-up game, and considering the matchup, I must agree that he is starter-worthy. In a tough environment, however, against an overall better team, Foles will not explode again this week but should put up enough stats to make him a solid mid- to high-end QB2. No other Eagles passing game player is on the radar, as the running backs take away most of the remaining targets.

Running Game Thoughts: The Packers run defense is good, ranking fifth best in the NFL in rush yards allowed per game. On the other hand, they just let up a huge game to Matt Forte (125 yds, 1 TD, 5.2 ypc) who is similar to LeSean McCoy in terms of usage. Looking back at the Packers' games this season (and in recent years), a big part of why opposing running backs may not put up big numbers may have to do more with the Packers offense than their defense. In other words, the Packers normally score so many points on offense that opposing teams are forced to scale down or even abandon the run game entirely (the Packers have been run on the third least this year). This obviously makes the final rushing stats look good for the Packers defense, when in fact opposing teams were forced to throw more than they may have wanted. Look, I’m not saying the Packers are a cake-walk by any means, but if their offense struggles to put up points, like it well might this week with Wallace at quarterback, the Eagles may have a good chance at running the ball 25 or more times and wearing out a Packers defense that is not particularly deep. Either way, nobody who owns McCoy is sitting him this week, so this may all be a moot point, but I actually expect a bigger game on the ground than many might by simply looking at the Packers run defense rank. McCoy is an RB1 this week and a top five option at the position. No other Eagles runner is on the radar this week as anything more than a handcuff.

Nick Foles: 290 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
DeSean Jackson: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
LeSean McCoy: 95 rush yds, 1 TD, 30 rec yds
Riley Cooper: 70 rec yds
Zach Ertz: 45 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: With tight end Jermichael Finley out for the year, Randall Cobb out for most of the rest, James Jones beat up, and now Aaron Rodgers out at least a few weeks, this team just cannot catch a break in the passing game side of their offense. Quarterback Seneca Wallace is set to make the start this week, and while he still has a few great weapons to throw to and a full week of practice as the starter, it is obviously a monumental downgrade for this offense and their fantasy appeal. On the plus side of things, the Packers do face an Eagles defense that is giving up the most passing yards per game at nearly 310. While the Eagles do have a porous secondary, they are surprisingly not among the ten most scored upon teams thus far and actually have picked off a fair amount of passes (10, for 11th-best in the NFL). Still, the opportunity is certainly there for even an average talented quarterback like Wallace to move the ball down the field through the air and, thus, not totally ruin the fantasy days of his receivers.

Speaking of those receivers, Jordy Nelson is still the man to own here, as he leads the team in targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns and is too big and fast to be shut down by any defensive back on the Eagle’s roster. While his upside is limited by Wallace’s presence, the Pack should still throw the ball enough to make Nelson a low-end WR1 here. After Nelson the pecking order is cloudy, as normally Jones would be the next man up, but he's been hampered by injury and his time away has given Jarrett Boykin a chance to play, which he has done well. While these two receivers may cancel each other out, I would feel safe starting either as a mid-range WR3 this week simply because of the easy matchup they find themselves in. The only other Packers passing game player on the fantasy radar is tight end Andrew Quarless, who Wallace targeted seven times last week and will probably look to again this week as a safety valve. The problem with Quarless is he is not athletic and so his upside is limited to a Brandon Pettigrew kind of performance. In a PPR league maybe he is a TE2 this week, but I’d look for better options in the majority of leagues this week. As for Wallace, the matchup is so juicy that I know people will start him, but the downside and risk is great enough that I don't see him as a top 15 option this week in most leagues.

Running Game Thoughts: With Aaron Rodgers out a few weeks, the pressure to pick up the slack will certainly be on the Packers run game, and primarily Eddie Lacy. Lacy has secured his place as a workhorse back and a top fantasy option despite being a rookie on a pass-first team and in a semi-crowded backfield. Lacy has now put up five straight weeks of 80-plus yards on the ground, averaging 25 total touches and well over 100 total yards in those weeks. With just four touchdowns on the year, Lacy’s opportunities in that area may rise as well, as the Packers may take a more conservative approach at the goal line without their franchise quarterback at the helm. While Rodgers’ talent in the passing game made defenses back off the run, making Lacy nearly matchup-proof, this will not be the case without him. So it is important to dive deeper into this specific matchup to try and predict what Lacy may do.

The Eagles run defense is not great but it is certainly better than their pass defense, which is among the league’s worst. Thus far the Eagles are 15th in both rush yards allowed per game and fantasy points allowed to opposing RBs. The Eagles have also allowed just one running back to eclipse the 100-yard mark this season and none has scored more than one time against them thus far. While the Eagles are much more susceptible to the pass, the Packers will no doubt lean more heavily on the run, creating a more favorable situation for the Eagles defense. While Lacy is certainly a start-worthy player this week given the sheer volume of work he should get, I would not expect huge numbers since the Eagles will likely load the box to stop the run. If by chance the Eagles offense blows up again like last week against an average Packers defense, the Packers may be forced to play catch-up and therefore Lacy may see less work, with running back James Starks playing a more prominent role as a pass-catcher. In my eyes Lacy is a solid RB2 this week who should be a safe start but with limited expectations and upside. While Starks has played well lately in a change-of-pace role, and could be more involved this week, he is merely a risky low-end flex option because his usage is so unpredictable.

Seneca Wallace: 235 pass yds, 2 TDs, 3 INTs
James Jones: 50 rec yds
Eddie Lacy: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 10 rec yds
James Starks: 30 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Jordy Nelson: 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Jarrett Boykin: 45 rec yds
Andrew Quarless: 40 rec yds

Prediction: Eagles 31, Packers 27

Lions @ Bears - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: When these two teams met the first time this season the Lions scored 40 points yet quarterback Matthew Stafford “only” threw for 242 yards and one touchdown (and one interception). At that point the Bears defense was healthier and the Lions were not as finely-tuned as they are now in the passing game. The past three games Stafford has thrown for eight touchdowns (3 INTs) and nearly 1,100 yards while completing over 60 percent of his passes. Of course, it helps to have the NFL’s best wide receiver in Calvin Johnson, who by himself had more receiving yards last week (329) than many teams. With a pass-first mentality (eighth highest pass/run ratio) and some nice complimentary receivers (Bush, Bell, Durham) to back up Megatron, the Lions and Matthew Stafford are a constant source of fantasy points, especially in better matchups.

This week Detroit must travel to Chicago, who are coming off their best defensive performance of the year against the pass. Of course this is because they faced an Packers team who had to throw quarterback Seneca Wallace in under center when Aaron Rodgers went down on the first series of the game. If you take away this performance, the Bears pass defense is not good at all, having allowed at least 225 yards passing in every game this year and two touchdowns to every quarterback they have faced, except for two (in which case, they still allowed one to each). While the Bears pick off a decent amount of passes (11, ninth best in the NFL), they do not get to the quarterback much (fourth worst) and let up a whopping 8.5 yards per pass attempt (last in league). In other words, they are not scary, and for an offense that ranks ninth best in pass yards per attempt, the Lions should have a field day throwing down field against a suspect secondary. While the Bears do have home field advantage, luring the Lions away from their friendly dome, I still think the Week 4 matchup between these two should be considered an absolute baseline for the Lions passing stats in this game. Stafford is a must-start QB1 and a top five player at the position this week. Johnson is obviously a WR1 and the No. one overall WR play this week, coming off a career day. With the extra attention that Johnson demands, I kind of like wide receiver Kris Durham as a sleeper WR3 this week, especially with some decent WRs on bye. To No other Lions passing game player is worth a start, as Broyles is out for the year, Burleson is still a week or two away, and Pettigrew’s ceiling is just way too low. With the running backs getting a ton of work in the passing game, there just are not enough balls to go around to feed multiple guys on a consistent basis.

Running Game Thoughts: The Lions running game has not blown anyone away this year, but for a team that relies almost exclusively on the pass, the run game has been more effective than it has in years and has done its part to keep defenses honest. While both Detroit backs (Bush and Bell) are not pile-movers, they fit this offense perfectly as quick and agile backs with great hands. Regardless of the matchup, you have to watch these guys. A tough defense may shut them down on the ground but still give up a lot through the air.

This week the Lions backs have an excellent matchup, as the Bears are giving up the fourth most rushing yards per game and have already given up 10 rushing touchdowns. Consequently, the Bears are giving up the fifth most fantasy points to opposing RBs thus far and actually had their worst total yardage against Reggie Bush in Week 4, where he totaled 173 total yards. While this will be a road game for the Lions, there is little reason to believe they will not be able to move the ball; with Calvin Johnson on fire and demanding extra attention, the run game should benefit even more. Reggie Bush is healthy and coming off a bye week so should be fully rested and looking to continue his hot start to the season. In this juicy matchup Bush is a solid RB1 and a top option in both standard and PPR leagues. Joique Bell is risky while Bush remains healthy but, in an easier than normal matchup like this one, could be started as a flex option for owners with bye-week or injury issues. Bell had 42 total yards last time these teams met, and I would look at that as an absolute floor this week.

Matthew Stafford: 320 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Calvin Johnson: 130 rec yds, 1 TD
Kris Durham: 75 rec yds
Reggie Bush: 85 rush yds, 1 TD, 40 rec yds
Joique Bell: 25 rush yds, 25 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: For a backup, quarterback Josh McCown looked good against the Packers last week, throwing for 272 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions while taking only one sack. This week Jay Cutler has practiced and has a great chance to play and, while he may be limited, this is a big division game, so he will not hold back much. The Lions are not a great defense overall but are no pushover either. The good news for the Bears passing attack is that the Lions run defense is actually stronger than their pass defense, and as the Bears have become a more pass-oriented team, this should accentuate Chicago's strength on offense. While the Lions are middle of the pack when it comes to giving up fantasy points to opposing QBs (16th), they are generous to opposing WRs, ranking as the seventh easiest to score points against. This is excellent news for the Bears, as they sport one of the league’s best one-two punches at wide receiver, with Brandon Marshall being an elite option and Alshon Jeffery coming into his own in his second year.

While Cutler’s injury and possible limitations slightly downgrades this offense overall, it is not enough, in a plus matchup, to even consider sitting either of these receivers. Marshall and Jeffery were first and second in targets last week, and I expect this to repeat this week, as Cutler is smart enough to get the ball into their hands as much as possible. Marshall is still an easy pick as a WR1 and Jeffery should be a solid mid-range WR2. Tight end Martellus Bennett has been quiet lately, but after the top five or six options at the position, there are not many safer players out there this year. Consider Bennett a low-end tight 1 again this week. As for Cutler, the fact that this game could turn into a shootout certainly helps his chances of having a nice fantasy day, and while I do not expect career numbers from him (because he may be limited), he has four legit weapons to throw too (including Forte), so I think he is starter-worthy and a solid low-end QB1. No other Bears passing game member is on the fantasy radar right now.

Running Game Thoughts: The Detroit run defense has been fairly solid this year, giving up just 108 yards per game, good for 14th in the NFL. Fantasy-wise they are just a little tougher than average but still considered a neutral, not negative, matchup. The good news for Forte owners is that the Lions worst game against a single running back this year was when Forte put up 117 total yards and a touchdown a few weeks back. With Cutler apparently playing in this game, the passing game should do its part to take pressure off the run game, and with two excellent wide receivers playing at a high level, the Lions will be hard-pressed to put a safety down in the box to help against the run.

While we cannot be certain of exactly how much Cutler’s injury will affect him, it is not unrealistic to expect a heavier dose of the run rather than Cutler dropping back 35 times and increasing the chance for a re-aggravation of his groin injury. Even if the Bears do need to pass as much than usual, Forte is a great receiver out of the backfield and is averaging five catches every game, enough to make a significant difference in his fantasy day. Start Forte with confidence this week as a solid RB1 who should rack up some nice yardage even if he does not get into the end zone. Michael Bush is still just a handcuff here and is off the fantasy radar again this week.

Jay Cutler: 290 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Matt Forte: 90 rush yds, 40 rec yds
Brandon Marshall: 85 rec yds, 1 TD
Alshon Jeffery: 80 rec yds,
Martellus Bennett: 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Lions 30, Bears 27

Bills @ Steelers - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: The Bills offense has filled up the pages of the injury report this year with injuries to multiple quarterbacks, two of their main running backs, and at least three of their wide receivers, not to mention the line being banged up and bruised. Considering their injury situation, it’s actually pretty amazing that they have been in and even won as many games as they have. This week the offense is still not 100 percent but a few of the main pieces are close to where they want to be. Rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel looks like he will start this week after missing several games with a knee injury. Manuel has had both brilliant and awful moments early in his rookie campaign but is easily the most talented quarterback on the Bills roster and should bring some much needed stability to the offense if he is able to return to full health. Both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, running backs who play a big part in the passing game, look to be the healthiest they have been possibly all year. The receiving corps is still banged up, as both Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin are questionable to play, but Stevie Johnson looks healthy and tight end Scott Chandler is good to go as well.

The Steelers pass defense this season has been quite good, ranking fourth in passing yards allowed per game. They have allowed just nine passing touchdowns thus far (fourth best), and are currently allowing the 6th least amount of fantasy points to opposing QBs. On the bright side for the Bills, the Steelers do not get to the quarterback a lot (13 sacks, third fewest in the NFL) and have only picked off four passes, tied for second worst in the league. The Steelers also may be without one of the their best defensive backs, Ike Taylor, who suffered a concussion and is questionable to play this week. For a game in Pittsburgh, with a rookie quarterback who will most likely be shaking some rust off, with a less than full receiving corps, this is not a great matchup. There is some nice young talent on this team, and if they were all healthy and clicking on offense there might be some value here, but right now this is mostly a team to avoid from a fantasy standpoint. I like Manuel long term, but in his first game back in a tough environment, he is nothing more than a low-end QB2 and should be avoided in most leagues. Johnson is not a true No. 1 wide receiver and therefore is far from matchup-proof. While the lack of other options this week should make him a target monster, the Steelers defense is good enough to limit him to just an average game. Johnson is no better than an average WR3 this week. The only other option I would consider for the Bills this week is Chandler, who is already getting decent targets and should continue that trend against a Steelers defense that is stronger against wide receivers than tight ends. Chandler is a mid-range TE2 this week.

Running Game Thoughts: With a rookie quarterback coming off an injury and a banged-up receiving corps, the focus of the Bills' offensive attack is almost certainly going to be on the ground. This is great news actually, as C.J. Spiller is about as healthy as he has been all year, and with Fred Jackson performing well, the team has a great one–two punch that could easily carry the rock 25-plus times this week. The even better news for the Bills is that while the Steelers have been tough against the pass, they have been weak against opponents’ running attacks. At this point the Steelers are the seventh most generous defense to opposing fantasy RBs. In addition, they are giving up the second most rushing yards per game and have allowed 12 rushing touchdowns, second most in the league. The Steelers are also coming off a game where the Patriots crushed them on the ground, compiling 197 yards and a healthy 5.6 yards per carry. All in all, this is shaping up as an awesome matchup for Spiller and Jackson owners, as the game plan should be "run, run, run" and the defense should keep them within striking distance all game long. Both Jackson and Spiller can be safely started this week as RB2s, and if you have both of them, it should still be safe to start both unless you clearly have a better option. If you have both but only want to start one, I’d actually go with Spiller, who is the more dynamic player and should be closer to 100 percent health than he has been all year. Look for an overall terrific day from this backfield.

EJ Manuel: 225 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 20 rush yds
C.J. Spiller: 95 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Fred Jackson: 80 rush yds, 20 rec yds
Steve Johnson: 70 rec yds
Scott Chandler: 70 rec yds
Marquise Goodwin: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Despite losing last week, getting picked off twice and sacked five times, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers passing offense is putting up nice numbers, has some legit weapons, is probably going to get better, and is now a legit source of weekly fantasy points. The Steelers are passing on nearly 65 percent of their offensive plays and with a solid quarterback, three nice receivers (Brown, Sanders, Miller), and an emerging running game, I look for them to be one of the better offenses for fantasy purposes in the season’s second half. This week the Steelers should get back members of their offense that could pay dividends right away. Right guard David DeCastro returns and should immediately be the team’s best offensive lineman, and wide receiver rookie Markus Wheaton should also return. While Wheaton has not done much yet this year, I look for him to get more involved as the season moves along. Of course, the weekly matchup will dictate a lot of what the Steelers can and will do, and this week’s is a fairly juicy one for this passing attack.

The Bills pass defense is about average in terms of the yardage they give up (18th in the NFL) but generous in the touchdowns they allow (most in the NFL). The Bills give up the 10th most fantasy points to opposing QBs and the second most to opposing WRs. While these numbers would make this seem like a borderline dream matchup, the Bills are also good at creating turnovers and sacks (tied for third in both categories), so the Steelers' upside is capped here. While the Steelers passing game is not elite, they are fairly healthy and deep, and it seems as though the offensive is clicking and gaining some positive momentum. Big Ben has been up and down this season, but with a full array of weapons, the likelihood of throwing it 30 or more times, and a decent matchup, I like him as a lower-end QB1 this week who should have limited upside but be fairly safe. As for his receivers, the Bills have been generous this season and I think both Brown and Sanders are start-worthy. Brown is a borderline WR1 and Sanders, who has really stepped up the past two weeks, is a solid WR3 in a plus matchup. Heath Miller slacked off for a couple of weeks before putting up 43 yards last week, and while he is getting decent targets, he is more of a safety valve than a primary target now. Miller is a solid but unexciting TE2 this week. No other Pittsburgh receiver is start-worthy, even Jerricho Cotchery, who scored three times last week but is not getting consistent enough targets as the fourth option in the Pittsburgh receiver tree.

Running Game Thoughts: Although the Steelers got rocked by the Patriots last week, Le’Veon Bell managed to have a nice fantasy day, with 74 yards on the ground and an additional 65 yards through four catches. Much like his rookie counterpart, Eddie Lacy, Bell has managed to lock up the workhorse running back duties for his team and is proving worthy of being an every-week fantasy starter. For Bell and the Steelers run game there is both good and bad this week against the Bills. The bad is that the Steelers are still one of the most pass-heavy teams in the NFL, running just 35 percent of the time, the fourth lowest percentage in the league. Some of this is because the Steelers are often behind in games, while some of it can be attributed to the games Bell missed with injury where the Steelers basically gave up on the run. Either way, the ground-and-pound Steelers of old are a distant memory and I expect Big Ben to still chuck the rock 25 or more times a game, minimum.

The second piece of bad for the Steelers run game is that the Bills are actually a decent run defense, allowing just two rushing touchdowns on the year (tied for second best in the NFL) and a respectable 3.9 yards per rush attempt (10th best). On the good-news front, getting David DeCastro back from injury this week should boost the Pittsburgh offensive line, as he has graded out extremely well in run blocking. Also good news, the Bills offense is banged up and not exactly high-scoring, meaning the Steelers should be able to stick with the run at home and perhaps even run the clock out if they can get an early lead. Because Bell is getting a ton of work and the Steelers passing game should alleviate some pressure from the run game, I like Bell as a solid high-end RB2 this week in an average matchup with above-average circumstances.

Ben Roethlisberger: 285 pass yds, 2 TDs 1 INT
Le’Veon Bell: 80 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Antonio Brown: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Emmanuel Sanders: 75 rec yds
Jerricho Cotchery: 40 rec yds
Heath Miller: 45 rec yds

Prediction Steelers 24, Bills 23

Bengals @ Ravens - (Anderson)

Passing Game Thoughts: Andy Dalton and the Bengals passing attack were on absolute fire for three straight weeks, accumulating 11 touchdowns, more than 1,000 yards, and getting picked off just twice, before last week’s matchup with the Dolphins. While the yards were there last week (338), Dalton failed to throw a touchdown and got picked off three times. The Dolphins should not have been that tough of a matchup, so it is troubling that the offense took a step back, but with a nice, deep level of talent around him, Dalton should be able to bounce back. The Ravens pass defense is no longer elite but they are still not a pushover either. They are currently 14th in the league in passing yards allowed per game. They get to the quarterback at a nice rate (seventh in the NFL in sacks) but give up a fairly hefty passing yards per attempt (7.8, sixth most). Overall, the Ravens have some nice pass rushers and a solid cover cornerback in Lardarius Webb but have some holes in their secondary and lack experience there, so there are yards to be had. As for starting Dalton this week, I think he is a solid and safe high-end QB2. Dalton is hard to judge because he was just average for much of the first half of the season but amazing for that three-week stretch, yet he has a history of falling apart in the second half of the season.

With so many nice weapons around him, Dalton should rack up some nice yards and probably turn a couple of those passes into touchdowns. As for those weapons, the ball is spread around so much that it is hard for any guy other than A.J. Green to be a consistent weapon (Green is a wide 1 this week), but Marvin Jones has stepped up to a point where he needs to be considered as a WR3/flex option in decent matchups, and this one would fit the bill. With Green probably drawing a lot of coverage from Webb, Jones should draw a weaker cornerback and Dalton may look his way six or more times for the fourth game in a row. Don’t expect huge numbers from Jones, but he seems to be a safe and consistent option right now. No other Bengals passing game player is starter worthy, with the ball being spread around so much and Green and Jones getting most of Dalton’s attention.

Running Game Thoughts: The good news for the Bengals run game is that they are coming off one of their best overall efforts of the season, rushing for 163 yards and two touchdowns at a healthy 4.7 yards per carry average. Giovani Bernard had another highlight-reel run last week, and while he sustained a rib injury that took him from the game, he is fully expected to play this week and should not be hampered too much. The bad news for the Bengals is that the Ravens run defense has been plain nasty this year, giving up just one rushing touchdown (best in the NFL), and ranking eighth in rush yards per game allowed, and sixth in rush yards allowed per attempt. Looking at these numbers, it is obvious the Ravens are tough against fantasy RBs, and in fact they are giving up the fewest points per game to them. While elite running backs like Adrian Peterson may not be effected much by such a tough matchup, the Bengals have a rookie and a below-average veteran in BenJarvus Green-Ellis. In other words, this probably will not be pretty. This week I am absolutely sitting BJGE, as he is not involved in the passing game much and has not been effective running the ball in most games anyway. Bernard is a different case because he does get a lot of passing game work (30 rec, 2 TDs) and is therefore still a startable player. While Bernard has been a fairly solid RB2 this year, I would downgrade him to more of a RB3/flex this week who should accumulate enough stats to contribute but certainly won't come close to being a top performer at the position.

Andy Dalton: 285 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Giovani Bernard: 40 rush yds, 30 rec yds
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 30 rush yds
A.J. Green: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Marvin Jones: 70 rec yds
Tyler Eifert: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: Joe Flacco has had to adjust to some injuries and new faces on offense, but it is hard to justify just how bad he has been. Thus far he has had exactly one really good fantasy game. Excluding that game (against Green Bay), Flacco has more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (8) and is averaging just over 250 yards per game. The Ravens do not have the greatest receiving corps in the NFL, but Torrey Smith is becoming a borderline legit No. 1 receiver, Marlon Brown has far exceeded expectations as a big-bodied rookie, and Jacoby Jones is fast enough to take the top off most defenses. Despite these weapons, Flacco has underwhelmed and now ranks outside of the top 20 quarterbacks in completion percentage, yards per pass attempt average, and quarterback rating. For a guy that is being paid like a top five quarterback, these are awful numbers. The Ravens' blocking up front has been pretty awful as well, but there is no reason that the coaches should not have adjusted the game plan by now to help this offense out.

This week the Ravens face a defense that on paper is still among the league’s best but is reeling after losing their best cornerback (Hall) and lineman (Atkins) while also being thin at linebacker. The Bengals should still be a quality defense, but they are now quite a way from being elite as they were the first eight weeks this year. Without Hall, Torrey Smith should have little trouble getting open against the Bengals' lesser cornerbacks, as Mike Wallace did last week for 82 yards, one of his best games of the year. It will be interesting to see if the Ravens try to run more than they have lately, as they have become a pass-heavy team, and their record shows that it is not working. Until we actually see Baltimore run it more, I am going to assume they will remain pass-heavy, and with the injuries the Bengals have on defense, that might actually turn out in the Ravens' favor this week. Smith is a solid low-end WR1 this week, as he is due for a breakout after three below-average weeks. As for the other receives, they seem to be canceling each other out most weeks, so it is tough to recommend any of them strongly. Brown gets a little bump over Jones because of his being a better threat in the red zone, but he is still no more than a low-end WR3. There was news this week that tight end Dennis Pitta may return, but until that actually happens, no Ravens tight end should be starting on your team, as they are both way too inconsistent. Finally, I do think Flacco will get on a hot streak at some point this year, but things are just too much out of whack right now with the offense to recommend him as anything more than a low-end QB2. With some QBs on their bye weeks and injuries to others, Flacco is certainly worthy of starting, and he does have some upside against an ailing defense, but do not go overboard here. There is still more to dislike than like right now.

Running Game Thoughts: When Joe Flacco is your leading rusher in a game, something is majorly wrong. Despite Ray Rice saying he felt better than he did all year, he managed just 17 yards on the ground against the Browns last week (Flacco had 25). The Ravens are now 3–5 and are passing 60 percent of the time on offense and Rice is averaging less than 14 carries per game. While Rice struggled early with injuries and the Ravens have faced some tough opponents, the lack of usage of Rice is puzzling—and for his fantasy owners, maddening. There are lots of people to blame here: the offensive line is not blocking well, the play calling has been awful, and Flacco is not exactly lighting the world on fire in the pass game to take the pressure off Rice. Regardless, you would think the coaching staff would feed Rice the rock 20-plus times, like they did the last time they won a game (four weeks ago, when Rice and 74 yards and two touchdown). Rice must take some of the blame, as he has been banged up and has some wear and tear on his body, but he is way too talented to be this underutilized.

This week the Ravens face a Bengals defense that looked terrifying just a few weeks ago but with the loss of cornerback Leon Hall (their best defensive back) and lineman Geno Atkins (their best overall defender), this defense looks a lot more average. Against a below-average Dolphins running attack, the Bengals gave up 157 yards on the ground, most of those going to Lamar Miller (105), who easily had his best game of the year thus far. The Bengals should be scrambling on defense with the sudden loss of their best defender, so on paper this represents a terrific opportunity for Rice and the Ravens to have a bounce-back game. While the matchup is decent and Rice remains a good receiver out of the backfield, it is tough to feel strongly about him at this point. He is a low-end RB2 this week with obvious upside, but a bit of risk considering his lack of usage. Unless you have a clear-cut better option, I’d still roll him out there... just limit your expectations. Bernard Pierce remains a high-end handcuff but is not getting nearly enough work to be considered a starter in any league this week.

Joe Flacco: 270 pass yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Ray Rice: 55 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Torrey Smith: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Jacoby Jones: 55 rec yds
Marlon Brown: 55 rec yds

Prediction: Ravens 27, Bengals 23

Panthers @ 49ers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: After a couple rough starts to begin the season, Cam Newton has really caught on in recent weeks. In his past four games, Newton has averaged 22 fantasy points per start, reminding us what made him one of the top five fantasy QB’s to start the season. Newton has only thrown two interceptions in his past four games, while throwing seven touchdowns. He has also rushed for a touchdown in three of those four games, bringing his season total to four scores on the ground. That current pace would put him at eight rushing touchdowns at the end of the year and although that’s a far cry from the 14 he scored in his rookie year, his pace of 26 passing scores would be a career high. As he has been through most of his NFL career, Steve Smith has been a very consistent fantasy option in 2013. While he has scored three touchdowns at the halfway mark—one fewer than he scored in all of 2012—Smith has also failed to reach even seven fantasy points (standard scoring) in five of his eight contests. Newton has been finding a wider variety of targets this season than in years past, as well. While Steve Smith is still clearly the team’s top receiver, other players like Brandon LaFell and Greg Olsen have been respectable contributors in some situations.

Olsen does have it tough this week, however, as he will be up against a San Francisco 49ers defense that has surrendered the fourth-fewest number of fantasy points per game to opposing tight ends. The 49ers have held opposing teams’ tight ends to 7 or fewer fantasy points (standard scoring) in five of their eight games this season. San Francisco’s overall numbers against quarterbacks look solid as well, having allowed the seventh-fewest amount of fantasy points per game to the position in 2013. A closer look tells us that they have benefited from a fairly easy schedule at quarterback that includes games against the likes of Matt Schaub, Chad Henne and Carson Palmer; all of whom have struggled. One thing to consider is that the 49ers have been particularly stout at slowing down runs from opposing QB’s. Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck and Jake Locker combined for just 76 rushing yards between the three of them in their games against San Francisco. Newton has been very hot as of late and although this is a tough matchup on paper, he’s still very likely to be a fantasy starter in most lineups.

Running Game Thoughts: We all expected that the return of Jonathan Stewart to the Carolina offense would add to an already murky backfield, but the fact that he led the team in yards per carry on his nine attempts in Week 9 could make fantasy owners even more frustrated as the season goes on. DeAngelo Williams has been the team’s highest-scoring back through the first half of the season, but with Stewart healthy and fresh, that could change in the second half. Not only are Stewart and Williams going to continue to compete for carries and almost assuredly cause headaches for fantasy owners, but the goal line success of third string running back Mike Tolbert has been just as much of a confusion. Tolbert has scored four rushing touchdowns, two receiving touchdowns and has hit 9 or more fantasy points in each of his past four games. Tolbert may be the most “boom or bust” Carolina back of them all given that he is likely only going to take about 20-percent of the touches, but his ability to get into the end zone cannot be overlooked. The Panthers trust him at the goal line and why not? He has been one of the most successful goal line runners in the league for years now.

A matchup against the San Francisco 49ers sounds a bit scary when you say it, but a look at the stat sheet would tell us that this matchup is more bark than it is bite. San Francisco has allowed 11-or-more fantasy points to opposing teams’ running backs in seven of their eight games this season. The only team that failed to reach that number was the St. Louis Rams, who had struggled to run the ball against any opponent until they made the switch to Zac Stacy. They have also allowed an average of one touchdown per game to the position. Carolina has been hot as of late and although it can be risky to play any of the backs in this “three-headed monster,” fantasy owners shouldn’t be scared away by the 49ers name. Williams will likely continue to see roughly 50 percent of the team’s carries with Stewart around 30 percent and Tolbert at 20 percent. Where those carries take place on the field will greatly affect their fantasy values, however, so don’t be surprised of Tolbert walks out of games as the team’s highest scoring back; including this week in San Francisco.

Cam Newton: 210 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 40 rush yds
DeAngelo Williams: 50 rush yds, 10 rec yds
Jonathan Stewart: 40 rec yds, 10 rec yds
Mike Tolbert: 25 rush yds, 1 TD, 20 rec yds
Steve Smith: 55 rec yds
Brandon LaFell: 40 rec yds, 1 TD
Greg Olsen: 50 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: His first five games of the season were frustrating for fantasy owners, but those who took a chance and stuck with their man through his trials and tribulations have been paid off handsomely as San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick has finally begun heating up. Kaepernick has hit 15, 19 and 27 fantasy points over his past three games, including a huge fantasy performance against the hapless Jaguars in Week 8. What fantasy owners have been happiest about recently has been Kaepernick’s increase in rushing output. After failing to exceed 20 yards on the ground from Weeks 3 through 6, Kaepernick has rushed for 68 and 54 yards over his past two games. More importantly, during those nice outputs, he also got into the end zone a total of three times—his first rushing scores of the season. The unfortunate thing is that while Kaepernick is scoring touchdowns through the air and on the ground recently, he has failed to hit the 200-yard mark through the air in six of his past seven games. We can try to cover our eyes and ears regarding that fact, but there has to be concern that halfway through the season without Michael Crabtree, Kaepernick simply doesn’t seem to have much rapport with his wide receivers. Anquan Boldin has almost completely fallen off the fantasy radar. He has not scored since Week 4 and has not had more than five receptions in any game since his gigantic Week 1 outburst. The one player who has continued to be productive despite Kaepernick’s inconsistency as a passer has been tight end Vernon Davis. Davis has been over 60 yards receiving and/or scored a touchdown in each of his past five games, continuing to prove the point that he is one of the few elite players that exist at the tight end position.

With Kaepernick and Davis being the only players in the 49ers’ passing game worth fantasy confidence, what’s important is to take a look at their opportunity against a Carolina pass defense that is the very best in the league so far this season. In fairness, the Panthers may have had the most cakewalk schedule of any team when it comes to the quarterbacks they have played, but these are still NFL teams they are shutting down. Not a single opposing fantasy quarterback has gone over 15 fantasy points against Carolina so far this season and they have also held quarterbacks to single digit fantasy production in half of their games. Davis has been essentially matchup-proof throughout his career and it’s unlikely that fantasy owners have a better option, but those considering Kaepernick should strongly weigh their other options this week against this very good Carolina defense. Although Kaepernick has been hot as of late, this is a tough matchup and one that he could certainly struggle to produce within.

Running Game Thoughts: Back-to-back matchups against the league’s only winless teams have certainly been the recipe for some nice fantasy production for San Francisco running back Frank Gore. The veteran has scored two touchdowns on the ground in each of his past two games and has been on a stretch of six straight games of double-digit fantasy output (standard scoring). That streak increases to seven of his past eight games overall. As one of the true workhorse backs in the league, Gore has averaged 21 carries per game over his past five contests. Although he hasn’t been the kind of player to take over games this season, the number of carries he is getting in conjunction with running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league has made him one of the more dependable fantasy backs. Some worry about the red zone “vulture” touches that Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon have taken, but neither player has much fantasy value of his own other than in very deep, touchdown-only formats. This game isn’t expected to be a blowout either way, so don’t expect to see much of Hunter or Dixon this week.

Gore will have a challenging day as he goes up against one of the best front sevens in the NFL. Carolina has held opposing teams’ running backs to single digits in five of their eight contests this season. Only two teams have had over 80 yards rushing against the Carolina defense this season. While Carolina has allowed an abnormally high amount of receiving yards to opposing running backs, the current San Francisco offense simply doesn’t utilize Gore in the passing game enough for him to be much of a threat in that department. Gore is a must-start at the moment given how the San Francisco offense has been built around him, but this is definitely the kind of defense that could slow him down. He’s done it in back-to-back weeks, but try not to expect him to score multiple touchdowns against Carolina.

Colin Kaepernick: 170 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 40 rush yds
Frank Gore: 70 rush yds, 1 TD
Anquan Boldin: 50 rec yds
Vernon Davis: 60 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: 49ers 23, Panthers 20

Texans @ Cardinals - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: The “Case” for Keenum grew much hotter in Week 9 as the Texans narrowly lost to the Indianapolis Colts, largely due to the play of second-year quarterback Case Keenum. Keenum completed 20 of his 34 passes for 350 yards and three touchdowns this past week. He has now thrown for a grand total of 621 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions in his two starts for Houston. The Texans got off to an incredibly hot first half as Keenum completed three first half touchdown passes, all to all-pro wide receiver Andre Johnson. Johnson, who had not caught a touchdown since Week 15 of the 2012 season, made us all remember why he can be one of the most dominant weapons in all of fantasy sports when he’s on. In two starts with Keenum under center, Johnson has caught 13 passes for 318 yards and three scores. Clearly Johnson has not seen a drop-off in his production with the absence of Matt Schaub, and neither has rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins whose six receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown with Keenum under center have been a significant improvement from his previous three contests where he compiled just six total fantasy points (standard scoring). Even tight end Garrett Graham has been staying involved in the offense, although it is true that he has fallen back to reality after a crazy start to the season where he scored three touchdowns in four games.

Keenum is not the kind of player who will make for a great every week fantasy option but his Week 10 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals could go a long way in determining if he has more value than just the one big game or if he was indeed just a flash in the pan. Arizona has allowed opposing quarterbacks to throw for over 250 yards in six of their first eight contests this season. While they have done an excellent job of forcing turnovers with 12 picks forced already, they have also struggled at times to stop opposing QB’s from getting the ball into the end zone. The Cardinals have allowed multiple passing touchdowns in more than half of their games this season, which could mean an opportunity for Keenum to pick up where he left off. With Arian Foster looking less and less likely to play by the day, the Texans will need to rely on Keenum and the passing game. It’s hard to trust Keenum with such a little sample size, but if you’re in a tough situation, you could do worse than the Texans signal caller in Week 10.

Running Game Thoughts: Fantasy owners of Texans running back Arian Foster knew they were taking a chance when they drafted him with their first round pick this offseason. While Foster has been by far and away the best overall fantasy back in the league over the past few seasons, numerous nagging injuries caused major concern going into the year. While Foster had been able to produce early in the year, it appears as though a back injury may hold him out of the team’s Week 10 matchup in Arizona. Foster took just four carries in Kansas City back in Week 7 before being pulled from the game early. Most thought that a bye week would remedy the situation, but things got even worse when the team returned to play in Week 9. Fantasy owners put their trust in Foster, who was declared active, only to fail to record a single carry all afternoon against Indianapolis. Now heading into Week 7, it appears as if the Texans may have to turn to backup Ben Tate to shoulder the load in what has still been one of the league’s most dominant rushing attacks despite the lack of success the team has had as a whole. Tate, who is battling a rib injury of his own, is expected to play barring any setbacks, and immediately becomes a solid RB2 for fantasy purposes so long as Foster is out. He took 22 carries for 81 yards a week ago against the Colts and could be in line for a similar workload in Week 10.

Arizona has been very good against the run this season, having only conceded two total scores to the position on the entire year. After not allowing a team to rush for 100 yards in any of their first five games, the Cardinals have since slipped up a bit in that category, allowing back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances to the 49ers and Seahawks. While Ben Tate may not have the skill set of a Marshawn Lynch or Frank Gore, he is still a very serviceable back who may be playing for a future starting gig elsewhere in the league. Even against a stout Arizona run defense, Tate is a solid fantasy RB2 in Week 10. The Texans love to run the ball near the goal line and with Foster unlikely to suit up, Tate should have every opportunity to get into the end zone and make his fantasy owners very happy.

Case Keenum: 250 pass yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Ben Tate: 75 rush yds, 1 TD, 15 rec yds
Andre Johnson: 100 rec yds
DeAndre Hopkins: 50 rec yds, 1 TD
Garrett Graham: 40 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: It hasn’t been pretty but with a 10-point output in Week 8 against the Falcons, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer has achieved double-digit fantasy production in three straight contests. More importantly, Palmer snapped his string of five straight contests where he had thrown multiple interceptions. Unfortunately for Palmer owners, he did not escape the Atlanta game unscathed, as he did throw one interception, bringing his season total to a shockingly awful 14 interceptions. Palmer has thrown at least one pick in every game this season and his total is only worse than the Giants’ Eli Manning. Production from Palmer has been wildly inconsistent this season, but fantasy owners can’t be relying on him as much as they are his top receiver, Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has been even more up-and-down than Palmer, producing double-digit fantasy totals in half of his eight contests this season. The down side, however, has been that Fitzgerald has been at or below 6 total fantasy points (standard scoring) in the other half of his games. A nagging hamstring injury certainly hasn’t helped and it’s possible that Fitzgerald has healed a bit during the team’s bye week, but it’s still hard to trust a player who has been as disappointingly bad as Fitzgerald has since the beginning of the 2012 season. If Fitzgerald is going to pick up the pace, he’s going to need some help from his partner in crime, second-year receiver Michael Floyd. Floyd has really come on in recent weeks. Although the totals don’t sound exceptional, Floyd has averaged 7.6 fantasy points per game (standard scoring) over his past five contests and has been a reliable target for Palmer. If Floyd can continue to create separation and perhaps create a few more big plays down the field, we could see defenses begin to shift off of Fitzgerald a bit more than they currently are.

The Houston secondary has been a very odd one to follow this season. While they have forced just three total interceptions—tied for fewest in the league—the Texans have also allowed the fewest passing yardage in the NFL by a wide margin. With 1,378 yards allowed through the air through eight games, the Texans have allowed 370 fewer yards passing than any other team. Certainly Houston has benefited from a weak schedule of opposing quarterbacks faced, but the reality is that the Houston secondary and the up-front pressure from players like JJ Watt have made this defense a very tough fantasy matchup most weeks. They have been exploited a bit in recent weeks, however. By the end of this past Sunday’s game, Andrew Luck lit them up to the tune of 271 yards and three touchdowns through the air, for a total of 24 fantasy points in standard scoring formats. By comparison, the Colts held Joe Flacco, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick to a combined 24 fantasy points from Weeks 3 through 5. Carson Palmer is an interception machine and the Texans look almost completely incapable of forcing interceptions, so something has to give. My bet is that Palmer keeps the ball out of the hands of the defense, but also struggles to move it down the field, leaving fantasy owners with a mediocre fantasy day.

Running Game Thoughts: Just a few weeks ago, we were all baffled to see Andre Ellington take only three total carries against the Seahawks despite leading the team by a significant margin in yards per carry. Bruce Arians and the coaching staff in Arizona appeared to be all-in on their offseason addition, Rashard Mendenhall, who has been awful to say the least. But when Mendenhall was forced out of the lineup with a toe injury, it was Ellington’s chance to shine. And shine he did. Ellington rushed for 154 yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries in a breakout performance against the Atlanta Falcons. Fans got a glimpse of the playmaking ability that has made fantasy owners salivate, but that may already be coming to an end with Mendenhall now expected to be back on the field for the Cardinals’ Week 10 matchup with Houston. Arians has said that he would like to continue to get the ball in Ellington’s hands, even daring to say that he could see as many as 20 touches per game. That’s great news for fantasy owners who had seen him fail to touch the ball even 10 times in most games this year, but it’s still hard to trust this coaching staff. It appeared obvious to anyone who was paying attention that Ellington was massively out producing Mendenhall, but he was still only taking about 1/3 of the carries for the Cardinals until Mendenhall’s injury. Now that Mendenhall and Ellington are both healthy, this game will be a great opportunity for us to see how these players will be utilized going forward.

They’ll be up against a Houston defense that did a great job shutting down Trent Richardson a week ago, but had allowed an average of 111 rushing yards per game to opposing running backs in their previous four contests. Ellington is the upside play here, particularly in PPR formats where he has become a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield, but also in standard scoring formats. While some may sneak Mendenhall back in their lineup, it’d be hard to believe that he’s suddenly going to break out of his funk in the game immediately following an injury. Mendenhall has not rushed for even 70 yards in any game this season and although he has scored three rushing touchdowns, his prospects of doing that will be limited with Ellington now in line to see more touches.

Carson Palmer: 150 pass yds, 1 TD
Andre Ellington: 70 rush yds, 1 TD, 25 rec yds
Michael Floyd: 50 rec yds
Larry Fitzgerald: 40 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Cardinals 20, Texans 17

Broncos @ Chargers - (Caron)

Passing Game Thoughts: Never has a quarterback been on a pace anywhere near what Peyton Manning has done through the first half of the NFL season. Manning’s 29 passing touchdowns through eight games are already more than all but five quarterbacks (including himself) threw in the entire 2012 season. Let that sink in for a moment. Manning has already put together what would be considered a “good” fantasy season...and he still has eight more games to play. With the Broncos coming off a bye and Manning having time to rest his sore ankles, it’s not hard to understand why practically every single fantasy expert in the country has the Broncos’ signal caller ranked at the top of their fantasy projections for Week 10. If there is anything to nitpick about what Manning has done recently, it’s that he has been a little overconfident with some throws. After avoiding throwing an interception in any of his first four games, Manning has since thrown at least one pick in each of his past four starts, culminating in a three-INT performance the last time we saw him, against Washington. Manning hasn’t had a problem with interceptions in well over a decade, so we’ll chalk that up to happenstance, but it is worth considering that his injured ankles may be causing him to deliver the ball with modified mechanics. Still, Manning is as stone cold of a lock fantasy QB1 as is possible right now, and his receivers are no different.

While the Chargers have avoided allowing a wide receiver to score in any of their past three games, they have not done a very good job of slowing down players at the position as a whole. They’ve allowed a combined 491 yards to wide receivers during that stretch and that number could skyrocket on Sunday against Denver. Broncos receiver Wes Welker is battling an ankle injury of his own, but is expected to be near full strength this Sunday in what should be another great game for him. In his past five games against the Chargers, Welker has averaged an impressive seven receptions per game. If he hits that number this week, he is almost a lock to be one of the league’s top-scoring fantasy contributors. Both Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas have great track records against the Chargers as well. Both players caught a touchdown in each of their two games against San Diego a season ago and appear to be a great bet to make that happen again against the Chargers’ 28th-ranked fantasy defense against wide receivers. The Chargers have allowed 212 or more yards to opposing receivers in five of their eight games this season and with the league’s most potent offense lined up against them, it’d practically take a miracle for that number to not go up by a game. The lone note of concern with this offense comes in the form of tight end Julius Thomas who suffered a mild ankle sprain in the team’s Week 8 victory over Washington. While Thomas has been practicing, his work has been limited in preparation for Sunday’s game. It is believed that he will suit up, but Thomas may not be his usual playmaking self. That could hurt against a Chargers defense has done a surprisingly good job against opposing tight ends this season. They have not allowed a touchdown or more than 60 yards to the position since Week 1. It’s unlikely that fantasy owners are going to have a better option than Thomas assuming he plays, but this may be a week to temper expectations for this normally elite fantasy tight end.

Running Game Thoughts: If ever a running back has come out of nowhere to become a fantasy stud, it is Denver tailback Knowshon Moreno. With all reports indicating that Moreno would be the team’s third-string back coming into the year behind Ronnie Hillman and rookie Montee Ball, who could have possibly imagined that we would see high-end RB1 fantasy production from a player who was written off as a first round NFL draft bust? Moreno has done it, though, and 18-point fantasy day against the Redskins in Week 8 marked the fifth straight game that he has been in double digits (standard scoring). Moreno rushed for fewer than 45 yards for the third straight week, but his six receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown more than made up for that. Moreno now leads all backs with nine total scores heading into Week 10.

San Diego had been one of the league’s best run defenses heading into their Week 8 matchup with the Redskins, but were exposed to the tune of 156 yards and four touchdowns in their loss, which dropped them all the way down to 11th in the fantasy defense rankings. It’d be tough to imagine that Denver produces a similar kind of day on the ground given their expertise at throwing the ball, but San Diego is clearly reeling after that awful performance and Denver could be smelling blood. Typically it’s hard to trust players who rely so heavily on touchdowns for their fantasy production, but given Denver’s offensive firepower, Moreno is about as safe of a player to have an opportunity to score as you’re going to find in the league. The Broncos are a dynamic offense that loves to mix things up, which should lead to plenty of opportunities for Moreno to continue building upon his excellent season.

Peyton Manning: 375 pass yds, 3 TD
Knowshon Moreno: 70 rush yds, 2 TD, 40 rec yds
Demaryius Thomas: 90 rec yds, 1 TD
Eric Decker: 80 rec yds, 1 TD
Wes Welker: 75 rec yds, 1 TD
Julius Thomas: 50 rec yds

Passing Game Thoughts: The impressive fantasy days just keep rolling in for Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers who notched an 18-point performance against the Redskins in Week 9. Although his team lost, Rivers’ 341 yards marked the fourth time in eight games that he has hit that number or higher already this season. What has been most impressive about Rivers’ return to fantasy prominence is that he has been doing it with a rag-tag group of pass catchers, many of whom were castoffs from other organizations. As it currently stands, Danny Woodhead leads all Chargers receivers with 49 receptions, but it is Eddie Royal who leads the team with an impressive seven touchdowns. After a four game drought from the end zone, Royal has now scored in back-to-back weeks and he continues to be by far the team’s most effective red zone option. Antonio Gates has been a bit quiet over his past few games, having failed to catch a touchdown since his huge 10-catch performance against Dallas back in Week 4. Still, Gates has remained a valuable asset, particularly in PPR formats as he is currently on pace for 96 receptions. His previous career high in a season was 89 catches back in 2005. The breakout star in recent weeks has been rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen, who continued his impressive stretch of statistical output with an eight catch, 128-yard and one score performance back in Week 9 against the Redskins. Allen is averaging nearly 100 yards per game over his past five contests and has clearly established himself as the WR1 in San Diego. While Allen is not yet a WR1 in fantasy circles until we see him do this a couple more times, the numbers don’t lie. Allen has been incredibly impressive and has a good chance to improve on those numbers as he goes up against one of the league’s most vulnerable secondaries this week.

Only five teams have allowed more fantasy points to opposing wide receivers than the Broncos in thus far in 2013. Denver is getting healthier on defense, but they still have their hands full in trying to slow down this San Diego passing game that has been so effective this season. Denver has allowed an average of 25.3 fantasy points per game (standard scoring) to opposing wide receivers and they have also struggled against the tight end position. Denver has already conceded five games of 90+ yards to opposing tight ends in 2013 and Antonio Gates could make a push to make it six. Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates and Philip Rivers are all must-starts in Week 10 in what could be the highest-scoring game of the week. Eddie Royal is also an option for those looking to roll the dice in hopes of a touchdown.

Running Game Thoughts: After they had run the ball over 30 times in their prior two games, it was a bit surprising to see San Diego abandon the run so quickly against the Redskins in Week 9. Running backs Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead combined for just 14 carries for 55 yards. For Mathews owners, it was a disappointing fantasy day as the back had gone over 100 rushing yards in each of his previous two contests, including scoring his first touchdown of the season back in Week 7 against the Jaguars. Woodhead owners would have been very frustrated with his 21-yard rushing performance if it weren’t for his unbelievable skills as a pass catcher. Woodhead added 77 yards as a receiver, tied his season-high total with nine receptions and continued to remind us why he is one of the most underappreciated fantasy commodities in the entire league, especially in PPR formats. Woodhead’s 48 receptions tie him for 10th in the league among all players and he leads all running backs in that stat. With the Chargers likely to throw the ball a ton in an effort to keep up with the Broncos, look for Woodhead to see additional playing time in Week 10. Mathews will still be on the field and should have some value, but don’t expect him to take more than 10 total touches. Meanwhile, Woodhead could be in line for some significant touches. He hasn’t touched the ball fewer than 10 times since all the way back in Week 1 and although he hasn’t yet hit 20 touches in a game, this could be the week that happens.

Denver has not yet been hit for a gigantic game by any opposing running back, but the fact that they have allowed double-digit fantasy points to the position (standard scoring) in every single game has to bring some extra confidence to fantasy owners of Mathews and Woodhead. Despite the fact that the Broncos are winning most games by double digits, opposing teams have scored a touchdown on the ground all but one game against Denver thus far in 2013. Woodhead is a must-start in PPR formats and could even be worth RB2 consideration in standard scoring formats. Mathews remains a low-end FLEX option for the time being, but does have some upside if the Chargers are able to keep the game close.

Philip Rivers: 350 pass yds, 3 TD, 2 INT
Danny Woodhead: 50 rush yds, 70 rec yds, 1 TD
Ryan Mathews: 40 rush yds, 25 rec yds
Keenan Allen: 110 rec yds, 1 TD
Eddie Royal: 50 rec yds
Antonio Gates: 70 rec yds, 1 TD

Prediction: Broncos 41, Chargers 30